Elon Musk's SpaceX has been in a sort of beta mode all these years, even afterand pioneering the landing, recovery and reuse of first-stage orbital rockets. As soon as Thursday, the company may launch the for the first time.
This week's scheduled launch of a Falcon 9 carrying Bangladesh's Bangabandhu Satellite-1 will be the debut of the so-called Block 5 Falcon 9.
SpaceX refers to the iteratively improved versions of the Falcon 9 by their block number. Most of the recent Falcon 9 rockets that have managed to land and then fly a second mission after reconditioning have been Block 3 or Block 4 (sometimes called "Full Thrust") rockets. Elon Musk has said that Block 5 represents the final upgrades to the Falcon 9, incorporating tweaks to make it more reusable while adding a little more power and minor improvements that provide more control on descent.
Up until now, the Falcon 9 rockets we've seen were really meant to fly just a few times and none of them have flown more than twice. SpaceX hopes that a Block 5 rocket will be able to launch 10 times in a row without needing major refurbishment. After 10 missions, it can be brought in, refurbished and sent out for 10 more flights. The plan is for this process to be repeatable up to a total lifespan of as many as 100 flights per rocket.
Block 5 is also the SpaceX rocket set to carry astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as later this year. But SpaceX will first need to carry out at least seven launches of the rocket before NASA will give the OK for astronauts to climb aboard.
The launch window for the first Block 5 Falcon 9 mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday opens at 4:12 p.m. ET. Check back with us for information on how to watch the launch.
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